Transforming Institutions: Undergraduate STEM Education for the 21st Century

Transforming Institutions: Undergraduate STEM Education for the 21st Century (ePDF [Knowledge Unlatched Open Access])

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 Transforming Institutions: Undergraduate STEM Education for the 21st Century
Knowledge Unlatched Open Access
Purdue University Press

Book Description

Higher education is coming under increasing scrutiny, both publically and within academia, with respect to its ability to appropriately prepare students for the careers that will make them competitive in the 21st-century workplace. At the same time, there is a growing awareness that many global issues will require creative and critical thinking deeply rooted in the technical STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines. However, the existing and ingrained structures of higher education, particularly in the STEM fields, are not set up to provide students with extensive skill development in communication, teamwork, and divergent thinking, which is needed for success in the knowledge economy.


In 2011 and again in 2014, an international conference was convened to bring together university leaders, educational policymakers and researchers, and funding agency representatives to discuss the issue of institutional transformation in higher education, particularly in the STEM disciplines. Central to the issue of institutional transformation is the ability to provide new forms of instruction so that students can gain the variety of skills and depth of knowledge they will need. However, radically altering approaches to instruction sets in motion a domino effect that touches on learning space design, instructional technology, faculty training and reward structures, course scheduling, and funding models. In order for one piece to move, there must be coordinated movement in the others, all of which are part of an entrenched and interconnected system.


Transforming Institutions brings together chapters from the scholars and leaders who were part of the 2011 and 2014 conferences. It provides an overview of the context and challenges in STEM higher education, contributed chapters describing programs and research in this area, and a reflection and summary of the lessons from the many authors’ viewpoints, leading to suggested next steps in the path toward transformation.

Book Reviews

Not since the days of Sputnik and the Cold War has the imperative to train more scientists and engineers been as urgent as it is today. Indeed, the calls for more and better trained STEM practitioners have continued to build in intensity, and must be matched with new energy and new ideas by our STEM educators. It is essential to our future growth and success as a country that we do more to educate every child in basic STEM fields, and to encourage more young people to pursue these disciplines in postsecondary and postgraduate settings. At the very core of meeting this goal are the ways in which we train and reward those who teach in STEM fields. This is the first book that both states the case for renewed emphasis on STEM education and provides compelling examples of best practices, what works well, and innovative classroom/laboratory experiments that have had positive impact on learners at all types of institutions. - Sally Mason, PhD, President Emerita, University of Iowa


I believe that we have now entered what many undergraduate STEM education reformers consider an historic era. For decades efforts to improve undergraduate STEM met with varied forms of resistance. Many faculty and administrators rightly demanded to see the evidence that new, active approaches to pedagogy were more effective than traditional lectures in helping a broader array of students (including those who thrived on lectures) learn. That evidence has accumulated and is unambiguous. Thus, much of the resistance has abated, but not completely. Variables as diverse as departmental and institutional infrastructures, funding priorities by institutions, expectations of college students who are the generation of testing of low order skills and knowledge under No Child Left Behind, and current emphases in graduate education all still serve as barriers to more widespread dissemination and adoption of demonstrably effective teaching methods. In short, it’s a systems problem.
Many individuals and organizations have attempted to address one or several variables in the system. But without recognizing the complexity of the system and its various intersecting, interacting, and changing components, some directly but many at a distance from each other, effecting change will continue to be a series of tweaks rather than coordinated movement toward student learning as the focus and raison d’être for the STEM higher education system. This why this book is so important. A compilation of thinking by many of the STEM’s education system’s leading experts, the editors bring together in one volume a serious, in-depth discussion of the problems and offer insights in ways to address them at multiple levels of the system. In addition to providing much of the evidence for the efficacy of this approach, this compendium also provides a rich array of “on-the-ground” examples of how change is occurring at many types of institutions. I predict that it will be an important “go-to” resource for many years. - Jay B. Labov, Senior Advisor for Education and Communication, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

About the Editor(s):

Gabriela C. Weaver serves as vice provost for faculty development, director of the Center for Teaching and Faculty Development, and professor of chemistry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Wilella D. Burgess serves as managing director for Purdue University’s Discovery Learning Research Center, an interdisciplinary center that examines the science of learning and seeks more effective ways to transfer cutting-edge research to learners.

Amy L. Childress serves as director of the Office of Undergraduate Research at Purdue University.

Linda Slakey served at the University of Massachusetts Amherst from 1973–2006 in various capacities. From 2006 through 2011, she was director of the Division of Undergraduate Education at the National Science Foundation. At present, she has a consulting practice in Washington, DC.